[Marxism] Movement to Protest Israel's Policies Triggers Bitter Fights Over U.S. Scholars' Speech
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Fri May 4 08:23:17 MDT 2012
May 4, 2012
Movement to Protest Israel's Policies Triggers Bitter Fights Over
U.S. Scholars' Speech
By Peter Schmidt
The movement to economically isolate Israel to protest its
treatment of Palestinians has led to heavy trading in
recriminations among American scholars and sparked debate over the
limits of free speech and academic freedom.
Among recent developments, four public universities in California
are resisting demands from a pro-Israel advocacy group, the Amcha
Initiative, that they block academics from using publicly financed
university resources to promote what is commonly known as the
"Boycott, Divest, Sanction" (or BDS) movement to pressure Israel.
Meanwhile, more than 140 professors at American colleges have
signed on to a letter to The New York Times formally objecting to
the newspaper's publication last month of a conservative group's
advertisement that attacked several scholars involved with the
boycott movement. The ad, published on April 24, said the scholars
"should be publicly shamed and condemned for the crimes their
The controversy over speech associated with the boycott movement
comes at a time when the nation's Jewish organizations are
themselves struggling to find a balance between embracing open
debate over Israel and seeking to stifle criticism of that nation
that they see as crossing the line into anti-Semitism.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella organization
representing more than 130 local, regional, and national Jewish
groups, is expected at its annual assembly on Sunday to approve a
resolution stating that federal complaints of anti-Semitic
discrimination on campuses are a valuable tool but could trigger a
backlash if filed too hastily with the Education Department's
Office for Civil Rights. Jewish activists who have formally
accused colleges of violating federal law by tolerating
anti-Semitism argue that such complaints are justified. The
incidents the complaints cite, the activists say, reflect just a
portion of the anti-Semitism they associate with critics of Israel
on college campuses.
Links to Controversy
The Amcha Initiative has accused professors at both California
State University at Northridge and the University of California at
Los Angeles of promoting the boycott-Israel movement on Web sites
hosted by the universities. The group has asked both of those
institutions to take steps to keep university resources from being
used in such a manner. The group also recently sought, without
success, to persuade the presidents of three Cal State
institutions—the campuses at Fresno and Northridge, and California
Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo—to revoke their
universities' sponsorship of talks by Ilan Pappé, a historian who
is director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the
University of Exeter. Mr. Pappé is a harsh critic of Israel who
has been accused of anti-Semitism, despite being Jewish.
Charles B. Reed, chancellor of the Cal State system, has backed
the campus presidents in their decisions to defend their
institutions' sponsorship of Mr. Pappé's talks on free-speech
grounds. He has also stood behind the decision by Harold
Hellenbrand, interim president of the Northridge campus, to let
David Klein, a professor of mathematics, continue to post a link
on his university Web site to a separate site with resources for
people involved in the movement to boycott Israel.
Last month, Mr. Hellenbrand, who is also the campus's provost and
vice president for academic affairs, sent faculty members and
administrators a letter accusing the Amcha Initiative of
attempting to squelch criticism of Israel. His letter said the
group's characterization of Mr. Klein's Web page as anti-Semitic
"reflects a partisan and sectarian view." Giving in to the group's
demands, he said, would threaten not only the First Amendment's
guarantee of free speech but also its guarantee of separation of
church and state, by letting a sectarian group determine what
speech is acceptable.
"To enforce this view on political academic speech is to truncate
the only enduring corrective to error and abuse, discourse
itself," Mr. Hellenbrand's letter said. "It is to suborn speech
and thought to the very thing George Washington warned against,
entangling alliance with a foreign power."
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer in Hebrew and Jewish studies at
the University of California at Santa Cruz who is a co-founder of
the Amcha Initiative, called Mr. Hellenbrand's letter
inappropriate, insensitive, and defamatory, arguing this week that
"he goes to great lengths to delegitimize us in ways that
effectively demonize us." The Global Frontier Justice Center, an
advocacy group based in Brooklyn, N.Y., has asked California's
attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, to step in and stop Mr. Klein
from posting any links to the boycott movement on his Web site.
Ms. Harris has not responded.
Disagreement in UCLA Case
It is unclear where UCLA stands in regard to the Amcha
Initiative's complaint about David Delgado Shorter, an associate
professor of world arts and cultures. Mr. Shorter posted a link to
a boycott-Israel petition, which he had signed, on a Web site for
students in a course on "Tribal Worldviews," which he taught last
Last month, Andrew F. Leuchter, chairman of the university's
Academic Senate, sent Ms. Rossman-Benjamin an e-mail in which he
said the head of Mr. Shorter's department, Angelia Leung, had told
Mr. Shorter that posting such materials was inappropriate.
"Professor Shorter's chair assures me that he understands his
serious error in judgment and has said that he will not make this
mistake again," said the e-mail from Dr. Leuchter, a professor of
psychiatry and behavior sciences.
Mr. Shorter, however, has denied saying he made a mistake and
agreeing not to post such links. At his request, the UCLA Academic
Senate's committee on academic freedom has stepped in to
investigate how administrators there have handled his case. Ms.
Leung did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment. Mr.
Leuchter said in an e-mail this week that he considers the matter
closed. "This matter was resolved informally, but effectively and
appropriately, with Professor Shorter's department chair simply
speaking to him about it," he wrote.
Recriminations Over an Ad
The New York Times advertisement that has stirred controversy was
purchased by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, an organization
founded by the conservative writer for which it is named. The ad
cited the recent murder of a rabbi and three Jewish children in
Toulouse, France, and said it may have been inspired by an
"atmosphere of hate" fueled by the boycott-Israel movement.
Specifically naming 14 American college professors who have been
supportive of the boycott-Israel movement, the ad says, "If BDS
activists refuse to moderate their rhetoric and end their
scapegoating of Jewish businesses, they should be held accountable
for the consequences of their hate."
In their letter to the newspaper, sent last month, the more than
140 professors protesting the advertisement said the ad "grossly
distorts the statements" made by the professors and represents an
attempt by the Horowitz center "to shut down informed debate."
"Even those of us who do not support BDS are alarmed at your
carrying an advertisement that misinforms and names individuals
who do not have the money that Horowitz has to defend themselves
through this chosen medium," the letter said.
The newspaper has responded to the letter, which it did not
publish, by saying it does not base its decisions on whether to
publish advertisements on the opinions they express.
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